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  • Introduction
  • Andrew Dubois (bio)

Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard are sweeter . . . Strange words! Stranger still to find them meaningful yet again, in new and different ways, in editing this issue of essays. These written considerations of lyrics to songs and of poems sung in a musical setting are sequenced in such a way as to move the reader from theoretical and historical meditations on opera, to discussions of particular operas (with an attendant drift into matters of modernism), to readings of the popular songs of Lorenz Hart, Cole Porter, and Sam Cooke. Most of them came out of a week-long series of talks and performances held on the University of Toronto Scarborough (UTSC) campus in late November 2008. Many thanks are due to everyone who participated then; to the Jackman Humanities Institute (which sponsored it); to the UTSC Department of Humanities and its chair, Bill Bowen (who supported it); to David Galbraith, who suggested this collection and helped make it happen; and especially to my co-editor, Katherine Larson, who is the real prime mover and practical force behind this issue.

Those words of Keats - but those unheard are sweeter - echo here because when we read about lyrics and their relation to music, the music, even if heard in the mind's ear, is not heard in the ear's eardrum. The side of the ear that faces the street might as well be the dark side of the moon; all the light is on the other side, happening in our head. It seems to me that one of the main satisfactions of reading about words and music in tandem is the satisfaction of having our desire both fulfilled and denied. We are stimulated by what we see on the page and lightly plaintive but stimulated too by what isn't and can't be there - the music itself. So we put aside the essay for a moment (but not the thoughts that it provokes) and drop the needle on the record and there we have it. Actually, as John Ashbery writes in a poem, 'You have it but you don't have it,' for, having put aside the essay to hear the music, and having listened to it, we want to read the words again with those melodies fresh in our mind.

It is a rich movement from reading about music, to hearing the music one reads about, and back and forth again. Some such movement obtains in much of the music we hear that gains a predominance of its power through words. As Linda and Michael Hutcheon describe in the essay that opens this issue, the 'semiotic multiplicity' of opera makes it a fertile field from which to raise questions that complicate 'word-music [End Page 865] relations' (870). From the days of the Florentine Camerata in the late sixteenth century, opera developed as an organic form in which '[w]ords and music were imagined to complement each other, to interact, and to reinforce one another' (870). As in most cases in which different elements are mixed, '[t]he ideal would be a balance, since the music was written for the text and the text for the music. Over the years, however, this balance was frequently subverted' (871). Doubtless that subversion, which produces the constant need to recalibrate the relation of music and text, is part of the perverse pleasure aroused. Balance is admirable but static; it is balancing, as an active attempt to reach a precarious point of stillness, that most stimulates.

In an essay that complements the opening consideration of word- music relations by thinking through the various ways of 'reading at the opera,' William Germano reminds us that 'the alleged conflict of words and music has been presented as a philosophical game, an aesthetic problem, even as an enigma concerning historical origins' (885). If for the earthbound reader there is something ethereal and otherworldly in song, there is an attendant 'suspicion that in the sung world reading is a deeply alien activity' (887). Games, problems, enigmas, and alien activities - so much for an evening's light entertainment! In focusing their attention on opera, these first two essays explore a particularly lavish fusion...


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